IBM Equates Water to Electricity, Wants Better Measures and Management

water faucets photo

Photo via -{ Ariful H Bhuiyan }- via Flickr CC

In June, we had a chance to sit down with Drew Clark, IBM's Venture Capital Group Director of Strategy. He let us know about some great ways IBM is filtering money into projects that go directly toward water and energy efficiency, particularly in making water management look more like the emerging smart grid being created for electricity. Clark pointed out that we hear about energy efficiency in mainstream media quite often, but not nearly as much about water. But that is changing, and IBM wants to be at the helm. IBM, Like All Venture Capitalists, Looking for Next Big Thing
Clark noted that venture capitalists are always looking for the next big thing. As more and more start-ups appeal for funding for alternative energy sources and transimssion and storage, venture capitalists start looking for what is under played. Water is one of those, and IBM Venture Capital Group is paying attention.

Water and electricity are very tightly intertwined, states Clark. "Twenty percent of all electricity in California is used to move water. So one fifth of the state's electricity is used in dealing with water- moving, or purifying, or manage water supply." That means there's a big opportunity for products and services that can improve upon what systems we have in place for water, and what systems we need to create to effectively use and manage it.

IBM's Smart Planet Wants to Make Water Intelligent
Smarter Planet, a project of IBM that started at the beginning of the year, is bringing together all the discussion around scarce resources and assets we need to bring to bear to help and smartly manage the assets.

"As you look at current issues, a lot revolve around effective management of scarce resources, but also deploy smarter infrastructure as a leaver to help us carryout the more effective management. Technology can play a role in helping us do that," he states.

IBM is looking at companies that can help address and provide solutions for some big questions, such as: How does a water utility operate, what pieces need to come together, what pieces can be optimized? Where can we employ intelligent sensors, smart software, and so on? How can we work with the governments and municipal water districts to help effectively manage the scarce resource, and help with quality of water?

How can we make water management be as intelligent as what the smart grid will be?


Photo via cloudzilla via Flickr CC
Companies Already Making Progress for High Tech Water
One company Clark mentioned as an example is Sensicore. Bought in April of last year by General Electric, they make smart sensors about the size of a half-dollar that senses impurities in water like arsenic and heavy metals. Pilot projects are happening now where these sensors can be deployed in reservoirs to gather data that is normally collected by a person spending hours driving around in jeeps and boats, and using detection kits to test the water over and over.

Clark noted it's "Very industrial age, labor intensive, expensive, and not necessarily accurate or repeatable." This new technology could use far fewer materials and resources, and give more accurate information about water quality.

He elaborated on more up-and-coming technologies such as development of intelligent sensors for water usage in order to conserve water, from agriculture to households to industrial operations. Water footprint accounting is getting rolling, and companies want to be able to track and monitor their consumption, but we need more technologies to help them do it. IBM is working now on solutions for businesses to shrink their footprints, something which will make a big gain in water conservation.

Demand for Water Technology Increasing Dramatically
Clark said that demand for all these solutions and others relating to water has dramatically increased in the last year, partly because of the Obama administration's focus on environmental concerns, partly because the stimulus package is providing help with getting opportunities going, and partly because of heightened environmental awareness in general. IBM sees that while we're still experiencing a slow start with these technologies, now is the time to be getting involved.

According to Clark, the biggest areas in water research are purification and distribution of water, quality and security, and management and control, with start-ups and research tending to fall in these buckets.

IBM is very interested in being at the lead of helping to set standards for water management and provide the tools to implement them.

Clark recently talked with GreenMonk, and you can listen in on his coversation covering this topic via video.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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